How to Create Conflict in a One Character Scene

You can probably imagine all kinds of ways a scene with two characters or more can have conflict. But what about a scene with only one character in it? Impossible? Not so. Important? You betcha.

If your character is alone in a scene, he’d better be going through some major inner turmoil. He’s frustrated because he can’t solve the mystery. He’s worn out from all the events he’s been through thus far and doesn’t see an end to any of it. He’s worried about his loved one. He’s stressing about losing his job. He’s nervous his past has come back to haunt him. And the list goes on…

The point is that you shouldn’t have a character by himself in a scene without some sort of conflict. Even if your character is in a car, traveling to another scene, you can use this opportunity for him to reflect on past events. Maybe something he sees along the way triggers a bad memory. Or a familiar song comes on the radio and tosses him into the past (not literally). Make this scene do double duty. Don’t bore the reader by forcing her to watch as Dude drives from point A to point B. Use this opportunity to show us more about the plot or character.

Sleeping characters also put the reader to sleep, or give her a reason to put the book down and possibly never pick it up again. Why? There’s no tension or conflict. In real life, we like our lives to settle down at the end of the day so we can rest, but we don’t want to see that in our characters’ lives. As the author, you’re supposed to torture your characters, so don’t let them off so easy. Never put your characters to bed unless they’re actually not going to get a few ZZZs. If your character can’t sleep because he’s haunted by the day’s events or worried about the heroine, by all means show us his grueling thoughts and emotions. Or maybe he rolls over and smells his missing wife’s perfume on her pillow, causing him to worry all the more. Maybe the hero and heroine are forced to share a bed, and the sexual tension is burning between them. They want each other but can’t or won’t do anything—including sleep.

Tension and conflict are two essential elements needed to keep the reader hooked. Ensure there’s tension and/or conflict on every page. Always ask: How can I add conflict to this scene? How can I increase the tension?

Can you think of other ways to add conflict to a single character scene?

Lynnette Labelle